Malala Yousafzai knows what it means to be a peacebuilder. Addressing the United Nations in New York on July 12 – her sixteenth birthday – she showed the conviction that has made her a leading champion of peace and women’s rights in Pakistan. Wrapped in a shawl once worn by assassinated Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Malala argued for tolerance, understanding and education for all people. Then she recounted the fateful day last year when a Taliban hitman tried to end her life.
“They thought that the bullet would silence us,” she told the packed UN Youth Assembly. “But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
Malala is a powerful voice for change in her native Pakistan. The message she and many other brave women in Pakistan are championing – a message of tolerance and possibility – is urgently needed, and it is being heard.
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice,” she said, “those who have fought for their rights, their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
Our Pakistani partners, Aware Girls, have actively championed Malala following her shooting, and already welcomed her as a participant at one of their workshops. “Malala, you are a symbol of courage and bravery,” posted 26-year-old Gulalai Ismail, Aware Girls founder. “You have proven that girls of Pakistan want to speak, girls want to change the situation, and girls want to challenge religious fundamentalism! Malala, we are with you in your struggle to challenge the religious fundamentalists and in your struggle to promote girls’ education!”
In honour of Malala Day on July 12th, we commend her, Gulalai and the many other peacebuilders who are making a difference. Their work will only grow as their voices echo, because – as Malala reminded the UN and the world – “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy, and ever girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality.”